Tag Archives: Spotify

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Don’t Fall for the First Amendment = Free Speech Trick

Image result for soviet censorship

Like climate change, this is one of those problems I keep expecting people to wise up about but — because they never do — it keeps getting worse.

Thus this tutorial.

The problem is that too many Americans conflate the First Amendment with free speech.

You see it when people discuss the current social-media crackdown against controversial right-wing radio talk show host Alex Jones and his website InfoWars. Jones was banned by Facebook, YouTube (which is owned by Google), Apple and Spotify, and more recently suspended by Twitter for one week. Writing in The New Yorker Steve Coll mocked Jones for calling himself the victim of “a war on free speech.”

“Such censorship is not unconstitutional,” Coll reminds readers. “The First Amendment protects us against governmental intrusions; it does not (yet) protect speech on privately owned platforms.”

The U.S. government is rarely in a position to censor Americans’ freedom of expression. Because the vast majority of censorship is carried about by non-government entities (like the social media companies blocking Jones) the First Amendment only bans a tiny portion of censorship.

Some government agencies do censor the press. A federal judge ordered The New York Times to halt publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971. The LAPD, whose pension fund owned part of the parent company of The Los Angeles Times and was angry about my work criticizing its brutality and incompetence, ordered the Times to fire me as its cartoonist. They complied. Annoyed by an editorial in the local paper criticizing them for conducting random searches of high school students at basketball games using dogs, the police in Baker City, Oregon created a fake dossier of crimes committed by the editorial writer, which they used to get him fired from his job.

These cases are covered by the First Amendment. But they are outliers.

We can’t protect existing rights if we don’t understand the current parameters of the law. New rights arise from unfulfilled political needs and desires; we can’t fight for expanded protections without defining what is lacking yet desired. Schoolchildren and student journalists, both public and private, are constantly running up against censorship by teachers and administrators. Employers constrain political speech, obscenity and other forms of expression on the job. These are free speech but not First Amendment issues.

In recent decades opponents of free speech, mostly but not exclusively on the right, have relentlessly conflated First Amendment debates with those over free speech. The effect has been to reduce society’s expectations of how much freedom we ought to have to express ourselves.

Take the Jones case.

Writing for the website Polygon, Julia Alexander provides us with a boilerplate (liberal) response to Jones and his allies’ complaints that the big social media companies are suppressing his free speech. First she described some of the episodes that prompted banning Jones, such as pushing PizzaGate and Sandy Hook shooting denialism. Then she pounces: “It’s not a freedom of speech issue, nor one of censorship,” Alexander writes. “The First Amendment…gives American citizens the freedom of speech…The United States government isn’t bringing the hammer down on Jones. This isn’t a political issue, as badly as Jones might want to pretend otherwise.”

See what Alexander did? In just a few sentences she squeezes and smooshes the extremely broad practice of “censorship” into the relatively tiny box of “the U.S. government…bringing the hammer down.” I don’t mean to pick on her — I’ve seen this same exact ball of sophistry used over and over by countless other pundits.

Of course Twitter, Facebook et al. are censoring Jones. Of course the First Amendment doesn’t cover him here. Obviously it’s a freedom of speech issue. The question — the question pro-censorship folks like Alexander doesn’t want us to ask — is, is it right?

For what is right is not always what is legal (see: slavery). Alex Jones and his allies may or not be legit. Their political arguments often are not. But the question they’re asking here is legit and important: should companies like YouTube have the power to suppress speech — any kind of speech?

Alexander ends with a message you ought to find chilling: “Don’t publish vile content, and your video will probably be a-ok.”

“Probably”?

Who gets to define “vile”? Alexander? Mark Zuckerberg, apparently.

Obviously it is a political issue. But that’s not the main point here.

Free speech used to belong to the man with the means to buy ink by the barrel. Now you can buy a newspaper for pennies on the dollar, but who will read it? Much if not most of the political debate in our civic life takes place on platforms owned, controlled and censored by the companies blocking Jones’ content. They write and enforce their own rules. As private companies they are unaccountable to we, the people. We don’t know how they make censorship decisions or who makes them.

Perhaps this is a splendid state of affairs. Maybe Americans don’t mind surrendering control of political debate to faceless tech giants.

Whatever we decide, however, we deserve a transparent discussion. We ought not to let ourselves be fooled into falsely equating free speech to the First Amendment. Free speech means exactly that: everyone and anyone can say anything at all, anywhere they please, to anyone.

Every First Amendment case is a free speech issue. But only a tiny fraction of free speech issues is a First Amendment case.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

Distributed by Creators Syndicate

(C) 2018 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved.

CDs are Dead. Long Live the CD!

Originally published by Breaking Modern:

Compact discs are dead. I realized this recently while shopping for a replacement for my dead 25-year-old Sony CD player; where there used to be lots of brands, now there are only a few and where there were many models, fewer still. Of course, this follows years of watching brick-and-mortar music stores — HMV, Tower, Virgin Megastore et al. — close their doors.

Perhaps it would be more precise to say that CDs were murdered. But was that just? Was that right?

Apple, which both predicts and creates the future, thinks streaming is the future — so they’re driving a stake through the heart of those shiny 5-inch discs whose design was supposedly inspired by an episode of Star Trek.

The computer giant recently ceased production of the signature device it introduced in 2001, the 160GB version of the iPod Classic. Says Will Dunn, editor of Stuff:

The iPod’s days have been numbered since the first iPhone, and the subscription model shows no signs of slowing down. Apple itself is transitioning into music subscriptions with iTunes Radio, and Google has just started trialling YouTube Music Key.”

Still, despite the pressure, many consumers prefer to own rather than rent their music.

Here’s Dunn again: “There’s still a huge affection for the iPod Classic and it’s not hard to see why – Spotify might offer 20 million songs, but 120GB of music is more than most people need, and your iTunes library doesn’t carry data charges or a subscription fee. Also, I think the Classic is a more distraction-free listening experience – I’m more likely to get through a full album on one.”

Music geeks have driven up the price of used iPod Classics on eBay and Amazon by hundreds of dollars more than their original cost.

Apple isn’t alone. Auto manufacturers have signaled that new cars will soon come with MP3 players, not CD players, standard.

2014 was a disastrous year for the music industry, with sales of both compact discs and MP3 downloads way down — to historical lows — as streaming gained steam. “Digital track sales are falling at nearly the same rate as CD sales, as music fans are turning to streaming—on iTunes, SoundCloud, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and music blogs,” reports Derek Thompson of The Atlantic.

Before you sell all your CDs on eBay, however, you might want to think twice. Compact discs have a number of distinctive advantages over streaming and digital downloads.

CDs Win on Quality

“Steve Jobs was a digital pioneer, but when he went home, he listened to vinyl,” Neil Young noted in 2012. Audiophiles who know the difference say vinyl offers the richest, most textured listening experience. Though vinyl is decidedly superior to compact disc, the CD is better than MP3 as we know it.

Downloads and streams music is highly compressed in order to keep the data flowing and maximum storage space, but that efficiency comes at a cost. “True CD-quality files take up anywhere from three to 10 times as much as space as an MP3 or AAC file, depending on the latter’s bit rate; 24-bit files take up even more space,” according to PC Magazine.

Owning Beats Renting

Digital data is easy to lose. If you don’t believe me, Google “lost my iTunes music library.” Yes, sometimes it’s possible for the poor souls who somehow managed to erase thousands of dollars of music from their devices to restore them. Other times, not so much. Either way, the one thing you can be sure of is that it won’t be painless.

A friend – she was the first person to show me how cool the iPod was – got rid of all of her CDs after ripping them. Then some jerk broke into her apartment and stole both the player and the laptop to which she synced it. Just like that, she became a music pauper.

True, if she had downloaded all her songs from iTunes she could have gotten them back. To me, however, the bigger lesson is, I trust myself more than I trust some company. She should’ve held on to the CDs.

The Physicality of Music Is Rewarding

A woman from England wrote to NPR’s music blog: “When I was a teenager, I saved up to buy music, bought one CD or record at a time, and listened to the crap out of it. I knew all the lyrics, I knew melodies and bass parts, I had different recordings of the same track — all that. Now, I download a heap of music: some albums, some singles, some random tracks that catch my fancy. I listen to them a few times, and then they get lost in the iTunes pit of despair.”
Downloaded MP3s aren’t songs as much as they are items on a list. Stuff you stream on Spotify or Pandora doesn’t even rise to that level; it’s just something that you hear in passing the middle of a bunch of other stuff. Unless a song really stands out, you’re not going to pay close attention. The odds that a tune will grab you enough to learn the lyrics, much less change your life, are radically diminished by the combination of abundance and randomness inherent to post-compact disc formats. 

I recently reorganized my extensive CD collection – aside from being a bit of a music addict, I reviewed records for many years and so have thousands of them – and found myself falling back in love with the physical form of the CD. While the artwork and liner notes in 5-inch booklets pale in comparison with their 12-inch vinyl predecessors, they’re better than nothing – and nothing is what we get when we stream or download. Like it or not, visuals matter.

Albums Force Serendipity

Remember the joy of discovery? On a vinyl album or a compact disc, the listener is “forced” to sit through “lesser” songs that, when they don’t work out so well, are viewed by fans and critics as contract-fulfilling filler. But that’s hardly the case for every band. In the digital age you can always download a single for 99 cents and avoid the dross — but what if the songs that never made it as hit singles for whatever reason turn out to be great? Odds are, you’ll never know. With a CD, you get to experience the full creativity of your favorite musicians as they experiment and stretch free of the constraints that come with trying to score that big hit.

Support Musicians, Not Streamers

Obviously you want the bands and musicians whose work you enjoy to make as much money as possible so that they’ll be motivated to soldier on. Unfortunately, digitalization has hit creative people hard, and musicians are no exception.

It’s pretty clear that, for the average band with a decent sized but not crazy fan base, compact discs are far more lucrative than digital radio and other contemporary formats.

Streaming services like Pandora and Spotify are notoriously parsimonious with artists, and at this point anyone with a conscience really shouldn’t be supporting them.

You Can Sell CDs …

Although the price per song is roughly the same when you compare a 99-cent download to a $14 CD with 13 songs on it, the price differential changes radically when you consider the fact that you can easily sell a used CD. If you have good taste, in fact, you could probably make a pretty good living investing in CDs – I’ve noticed that many of the CDs I bought for $12 way back when are worth $50 or more to collectors.

That’s a better rate than I got on my 401(k).

You could even make a habit of purchasing physical compact discs, ripping them at the highest possible quality to save and sell them. In many cases, you would probably be getting a dozen songs for just a couple of dollars. And then you wouldn’t be stuck with all those discs to store.

Just make sure to keep a backup hidden away in case my friend’s burglar drops by.